Early stage support for B2B tech startups
Unicorn India Ventures, a Mumbai-based early stage fund house, has been investing in cutting edge startups since 2015. Bhaskar Majumdar, Managing Partner, Unicorn India Ventures speaks about mentoring and supporting tech startups, focused on emerging technologies
A brief background of Unicorn India Ventures and what have been your key achievements since inception ?
Unicorn India Ventures is an early stage fund house with multiple funds under management. Our first fund, which was launched in 2015, is a INR 100 crore equity fund. We have invested in 18 companies till date which are in consumer internet, enterprise tech, AI, IOT, robotics, 3D printing, fintech and hardware. Last year, we also launched an UK-India cross border Fund – Unicorn Ascension Fund, which invests in UK scale-ups entering India. We have made four announcements from this fund also.
Most of our portfolio companies are performing really well and giving solid returns. Six have had Series A Funding. Security solutions startup, Sequretek IT Solutions has become one of the fastest home grown cyber security company, from launching new products to expanding business operations in North America. SmartCoin, a Bengaluru-based micro-lending startup has been disbursing over $ 2million dollars of loan per month and aims to quadruple its customer base in the next one year. The credit rating engine is totally based on machine learning. Open, a neo banking platform for SMBs and startups that helps small businesses automate and run their finances effectively. It plans to continue investing on its core software access platform and target to onboard 1 million small businesses into the platform by 2021. It is India’s first neo-banking platform. Besides this, the company has two fast growing investments with the heathtech area. Neuroequilibrium and Pharmarack, which is changing the entire supply chain for the pharmaceutical industry.
What is your criteria for selection of startups at seed stage ? Do you have any particular technology focus?
For us, before we reach the investment stage, it is important to spend time with the entrepreneur and his team. We spend two–three months, with startups to understand their business, the direction in which they want to grow and the team that is backing the business. We don’t prefer to invest in solo founder ventures. We don’t invest in a mere idea. A startup looking for funding at an early stage, should be able to show us traction in their business and a clear path to profitability. We don’t suffer from FOMO and automatically don’t support cash burn strategy as a tool to scale up operations.
For us, B2B tech startups are an important interest area. As a theme in the first Fund, we have invested in SaaS businesses which have a hardware element to the same. Like IOT, robotics, etc. While we continue to look for opportunities into B2C or consumer internet space but we are heavily focusing on new emerging technologies and startups that address a industry market gap.
What is the nature of mentorship, go-to-market assistance, and other support you provide to tech startups?
Mentoring and supporting our portfolio companies is in the DNA of the Fund. Both the managing partners bring complementary skill sets to the table. Anil Joshi, who is former president of Mumbai Angels, comes with a vast network with the Indian corporate and startup ecosystem. He can open many doors for companies looking to scale up while I’m a exited entrepreneur turned investor, thus understand the challenges and dilemmas entrepreneurs may face from time to time. We believe that by just signing a cheque and demanding startups to do business in a certain way is not the right approach.
We believe that an entrepreneur should always be in the driving seat knowing that we got his back and will support him to grow his business in a profitable and a sustainable manner.
Which are the emerging technologies that you are looking to invest in the future (with particular reference to the India market) ?
Right from 2015, we have invested in businesses across spectrum. For us, the most important factor is the market gap they are addressing and the size of that opportunity. We also look at the global application of that opportunity. Be it Sequretek or Inntot, or Open Bank or Pharmarack. One underlying common thread is that the market they are addressing has billion dollar potential.
We continue to be excited by cutting edge tech like robotics, 3D, fintech, AI and ML based business.
Information about your engagement with Kerala Startup Mission. How many startups have you funded and other key factors?
Unicorn India Ventures has been an early mover in Kerala. Kerala Startup Mission (KSUM) has been working proactively to establish the state as the next big hub for startups and investors. They have taken steps to promote entrepreneurship at school and college levels. As a result of their friendly policies, we have seen some of the well known entrepreneurs return to their home state to start their next business.
We have already invested in six startups in Kerala and we continue to scout for more opportunities there. Following are the names of startups, we have invested in: Clootrack, GenRobotic, Open Bank, SectorQube, Perfit Fashion and Inntot.
Do you have any plans of partnering with other state government startup programs too?
After Kerala many other states have also started focusing on kickstarting a startup ecosystem. We believe, as do a lot of others, that the next generation of entrepreneurs will come from newer areas. This is exciting and positive news for both investors and entrepreneurs who can now look beyond NCR, Bengaluru and Mumbai.
Unicorn India Ventures will always be interested to play a part in the ever evolving dynamic startup space in the country.
What is your strategic vision for the UK-India fund? What kind of assistance do you provide to UK startups planning to enter the Indian market?
Unicorn Ascension Fund was launched to open up the UK India tech corridor. UK is home to some of the best tech startups in the world and India is the fastest growing economy and is also one the largest consumer of tech in both consumer and enterprise space. Due to strong political will between both the countries to set up a tech partership, many UK scaleups are looking at India to launch their businesses. With this vision, we launched the Fund which would invest at a pre Series A / Series A level businesses in UK looking to enter India.
Since we are deeply entrenched in the ecosystem in India, this naturally puts us at an advantage to help UK startups entering India. We intend to use our network and presence here for the portfolio companies in the UK fund.
India is increasingly becoming a hub for cutting edge tech startups. The Government, over the last five years, has created a conducive and a friendly environment for new businesses to be born and grow. Global investors from the US, China, Japan and UK are all interested in backing high potential startups from India. Entrepreneurs have become more confident, daring to dream beyond India and actually showing the world that We mean Business.
I believe timing couldn’t be better for an investor or an entrepreneur to be present in India.